One more parting snapshot of the Welcome Blanket for good measure (thanks to A for the photo help!).
I delivered it to the Smart Museum today, in a brown paper bag like someone’s huge knitted lunch. Today was a scorcher in Chicago – the kind of thick, 33 celsius day that sees your fellow passengers wiping beads of sweat off of their brows with a soppy hanky on the subway. I felt more than a little cognitive dissonance as I carried around the blanket version of a rainbow woolly mammoth on this muggy, muggy day, but I was happy to see this project through to its end. I hope that the blanket will give a little bit of joy to whomever receives it.
This project, and the in-progress Knit Together organized by Melissa at knittingthestash, is opening my eyes to the beauty of the communally-made blanket. As the Knit Together and the Welcome Blanket makers are showing, collaboratively-made blankets are meaningful symbols of solidarity, togetherness, and community. They enact the principle of making something bigger out of individual, unique contributions. I love how knitting lends itself so readily to this idea, and am so glad to have been a part of both of these labours of love.
To making blankets together! And to the spirit of welcome!
After a little over 3 weeks of here-and-there work, my Welcome Blanket is complete and ready to be wrapped up and sent to the Smart Museum, where the main exhibit is taking place. I’m told that the project has recently broken the 1001 blanket mark, and the plan is for the exhibit to house all the donated blankets in a single room!
I started this Welcome Blanket on August 16th and finished on September 10th, working a square at a time, seaming up and weaving in the numerous ends here and there. I found it easier to stay motivated by going back and forth between knitting, seaming, and weaving-in than to separate like tasks and complete them all in sequence. I chose to knit up the project’s recommended pattern – Come Togetherby Kat Coyle.
What’s wonderful about Come Together, as a beginner blanket-project, is its knitter-friendly modular construction. Made up of 16 10″ x 10″ diagonally knit garter-stitch squares, the pattern provides a way of easily producing even fields of colour and allows for endless compositional variations. Knitting squares also means that the blanket feels like a quick knit for being done in small pieces (even if the finishing up is much more slow going).
My favourite part of this project was getting to play around with shape and colour; I discovered that I love to tinker with modular composition and variations (which seems to be something that, say, quilters get to engage in more than knitters?). I’m feeling a little bereft of words this week, so I’ll let the images reveal the process, from designing to finishing up. As you’ll notice, my colour choices changed significantly early on – the product of a compromise, or trying to balance creative vision with, er, the much humbler desire to de-stash and work with the materials I already had at hand. It turns out that big visions and material constraints can and do play nicely after all.
Designing and Tinkering
Knitting and Finishing Up
Me and my FO
Now, to wrap it up, pen a warm message to its recipient, and send it on its way.
For more information about the Welcome Blanket Project, see here.
Tucked into a lawn-hemmed corner of the University of Chicago campus, The Smart Museum of Art – the UC’s local exhibition space – is currently HQ for the Welcome Blanket Project.Welcome Blanket is a crowd-sourced project that is sending donated crocheted, knitted, and quilted blankets to new immigrants, migrants, and refugees living in the U.S. Along with the blanket, the program is asking that each crafter enclose a personal message of welcome to their blanket’s recipient. The project imagines and performs a mass-scale welcome through letters and yards and yards of yarn and fabric as a way of creatively resisting current “build a wall” rhetoric.
The gallery blurb on the wall clarifies:
By overlapping art, craft, design, architecture, social activism, political resistance, social media, and civic engagement, Welcome Blanket offers a concrete way to explore abstract ideas. Not only by making the concept of a 2,000-mile border wall tangible through yards of yarn, but also by blurring the spaces between individual stories and collective conversations. It connects a large-scale installation in a museum gallery with small-scale local craft circles with single links between a blanket maker and a new neighbor.
How do we make large-scale civic engagement meaningful, positive, and creative for each individual?
How do we intimately understand international crises?
How do we share our singular stories in an understandable way?
I see value in simple acts of welcome, reception, and inclusion through craft. A simple handmade blanket is not much: it does not change legal frameworks and practices. It does not significantly alter the difficult and precarious economic and social conditions of living for refugees and other newcomers to the U.S. And, it is likely not going to change the opinions of people who are committed to shoring up the borders of the country. But, a blanket gifted in this way sends a meaningful message to the individuals and families whose lives are being affected by the recent shift in policy and public sentiment on immigration in the U.S. I have also learned, through joining a local Welcome Blanket knitting circle, that contributing to the project is a way for people to materially make sense of what’s happening and find voice, agency, and community again in concrete and productive ways. Like others, I think with my hands and must grapple with things when working through bigger questions.
My sense is that simple messages and gestures like these, taken by a critical mass of crafters, can restore a sense of hope.
Imagine being given the best hug you have ever received from a good friend. This feeling of embrace, warmth, and acceptance permeates the Welcome Blanket exhibitionspace – you’re surrounded by a collection of handmade gifts whose purpose is to offer a little bit of colour, warmth, and comfort.
In line with the exhibit’s theme, the Welcome Blanket space invites visitor-participation. You’re welcome to sit and knit a while, peruse through a binder of personal welcome-notes written by various blanket-makers, or (if you’re new to knitting or crochet) take a seat and try your own hand at basic blanket square-making. The knitting circle meets weekly in this space, and it has been lots of fun to spend some time stitching at the Smart with other UC knitters, transforming what is usually a ‘private’ and solitary activity into one performed in a public and shared space.
Having found out about the Welcome Blanket Project very recently, I knew that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to contribute to a meaningful act of craftivism, despite never having made a knit-object on this scale before. So, it looks like a foray into blanket-making for me. More on the specific blanket-making process soon!
If you’re heading Chicago-ward in the coming time, the exhibition will be up until December 17th. And if you are interested in donating a blanket yourself to the Welcome Blanket Project, the deadline has just been extended from September 5th to November 4th. So that more people can participate, Welcome Blanket is covering the cost of shipping blankets to the Smart Museum in the US. Learn more at welcomeblanket.org